What is Spectatoring? (And 5 Ways to Stop It)

Sex Therapy

Do you ever feel like you can’t get out of your head during sex? You’re not alone. Many people experience difficulty staying in the present moment during sexual encounters for a number of reasons, so much so that there’s a term for it: spectatoring. 

We’re all busy, complicated people, so there’s often a lot on our minds, even when we’re in bed sometimes. Spectatoring is the opposite of mindfulness during sex – it takes you out of the moment. It’s like being stuck in your head instead of being present in your body. Spectatoring often involves judging yourself, critical internal dialogue, distracting thoughts, and focusing on how your partner views you. 

As humans, we do our best, but sometimes we have other stuff on our minds that takes us out of the moment. If you’re someone who experiences spectatoring, be compassionate with yourself. You’re not a bad person, and there’s nothing wrong with you for experiencing this.

When you have a hard time staying present during sex, it can leave you feeling unsatisfied or disconnected from your partner, which is often the exact opposite of why we have sex in the first place. It can feel really discouraging to feel like you can’t stay in the moment during sex. 

Why does spectatoring happen? 

Spectatoring can be caused by a number of things, often more than one at once. Some factors that can impact spectatoring are:

  • Societal messages about sex and beauty
  • Insecurity or low self-esteem
  • Past traumatic experiences
  • General life stress
  • Not enjoying sex
  • Confusion around your gender or sexuality

It may be helpful to you to pinpoint the factors that most influence your spectatoring experience. When you know what to look for, you can keep an eye out for things that tend to trigger spectatoring and make a plan to deal with them. Remember, not everything is under your control, and you’re doing the best you can. Give yourself lots of self-compassio

rocks behind the couple kissing

If you’re dealing with spectatoring and you’re wondering what to do next, here are some ideas for you: 

Build a meditation practice

Since spectatoring causes you to struggle to stay in the present moment and enjoy what’s going on, mindfulness is a powerful way to fight against it. Mindfulness practices teach you how to notice and observe your thoughts without judgment and return to the present moment when your thoughts wander.

Meditation is a beautiful way to get into the habit of mindfulness. Many apps out there, free and paid, that offer guided meditation tracks. Calm and Insight Timer are two big ones, but there are others out there. You can also search for guided meditations on YouTube and follow along. Not only does meditation help you learn how to redirect your thoughts and focus on the present moment, but it also gives you some time just for yourself, where you can tend to your needs. 

When you’re struggling to stay out of your head during sex, try to focus on skills you’ve learned during meditation and bring your attention back to what’s going on in the present. 

hand reaching the pink flowers

Focus on each sense

When you’re spectatoring, you aren’t able to focus on the sensations of the sexual experience you’re having. Instead, you’re stuck in your head, worried about how you look, how things feel, what you can do better or differently, what your partner is thinking, or something else. When this happens, you can check in with your senses to tune back into what’s happening in the present.

Work with each sense one at a time, and notice what’s happening with each. 

  • What do you taste? 
  • What do you smell? 
  • What do you see? 
  • What do you hear? 
  • What do you feel? 

Bringing your attention back to your senses will help you focus back on your physical body and help you feel more present. 

Open up the lines of communication with your partner.

Once you’re more familiar with what spectatoring looks like and feels like for you, it may be helpful to loop in your partner. Sex is an intimate experience, and odds are your partner wants you to enjoy the experience as much as they do. If they’re aware that something is going on for you during sexual encounters, it will be easier for them to support you. 

If you feel comfortable, describe to your partner what it feels like when you notice you’re out of the moment. Maybe you’ve seen some triggers or signs that spectatoring is more likely to happen that you can let them know about. If they notice you don’t seem as present, they may even be able to help you practice. 

Great sex is based more on communication than anything else, so make sure to communicate with your partner about what’s going on for you. 

Return to your breath

One of the most powerful mental health tools at our disposal is our breath. Breathing exercises have been shown to help regulate emotions and calm us down. There are different types of breathing exercises or breathwork, depending on your desired outcome (energy, relaxation, anti-anxiety, etc.). Exploring different breathing techniques online can help you find some that feel good to you. Practicing them makes it easier to remember what to do in the moment, so make sure to take some time and familiarize yourself. 

If you notice yourself slipping out of the moment during sex, try to turn the focus back onto your breath. Yep, just like in yoga! Your breath can help connect you to your physical body. Focus on the inhale and exhale, and notice where in your body you feel your breath. 

person breathing

A common breathing technique that may be helpful to you is square breathing. To do this, you just inhale, hold, exhale, and hold all for the same count. For example, breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, then inhale again.

Explore your beliefs about sex

Our society is weird about sex. We love to talk about it, but we also feel a lot of shame around it. We take in a lot of messages as we grow and learn, and those messages are influenced by our values, the media, and the people around us.

It might be surprising to recognize the messages you’ve taken around sex unconsciously throughout your life. 

What stories or messages do you tell yourself about sex? Where do those messages come from? Do these messages reflect how you currently feel about sex or do they need some updating?

woman lying down with her hand resting on her chest

Are you struggling with feeling like you’re out of the moment or not present during sex? 

Spectatoring happens all the time, and working with a sex therapist can help you pinpoint what’s going on for you and ways you can get back into the moment. Contact us today to get started.